this is your brain on music

The Musical Brain

This past weekend, CTV presented an interesting documentary called "The Musical Brain". Famous musicians Sting, Michael Bublé, Feist, Wyclef Jean and David Kane participated in the documentary. Studies were conducted on babies, the elderly, the non-musician and the professional musician to better understand music's effects on the brain. It was validating to see on a scientific level why we musicians are so brain-dead after an intense day of teaching/performing/practicing/listening to music. After all, many areas the the brain are firing signals at breakneck speed, analyzing and processing information, thinking ahead, drawing upon past and current emotions and memories to emote in the moment and using delicate sensory, auditory and motor skills in a fraction of a second. And let's not forget the great internal war that sometimes happens throughout all this when nerves and doubt creep into the picture.

Sound engineer turned neuroscientist/author Dr. Daniel J. Levitin has published two books on music and the brain and did the brain scan on Sting and Michael Bublé. In the end, Sting was a little uncomfortable with the results.

Psychologist Petr Janata and his team determined that some portions of the brain are 5% larger in expert musicians than non-musicians, that the auditory cortex in professional musicians is 130% denser than in non-musicians and that the corpus callosum can be up to 15% larger than non-musicians. The other parts of the brain that are further developed in musicians are the planum temporale, cerebellum, gray and white matter.

Dr. Charles Limb did a fascinating study with jazz musician David Kane, which showed what creativity looks like as a brain scan as Kane improvised.

Here's an interview that Dr. Levitin gave on TVO:

For me, it was almost the right amount of scientific detail. I found the percentages from a different study. Any more and it would take away the mystery and passion of our merry music making. Sting admitted afterward that he's quite content with being "happily lost" with this science stuff.

Here is The Musical Brain:

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

10,000 hours to Achieving Mastery

In his book, This is Your Brain on Music, Dr. Daniel Levtin wrote: "… ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over ten years. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people don’t seem to get anywhere when they practice, and why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."

He's not the only one to say this. Australian music teacher Leah Coutts ponders this point in her article AnInteresting Statistic and Unrealistic Goals Leah Coutts is a private piano teacher in Brisbane, Australia.

Blogger Michael Neill, blogged about the "levelling up" timeline to achieving mastery and puts that daunting number into perspective.

A quick Google search reveals that several studies have been conducted on this subject.

I suppose many teachers fall into the 1,000 - 10,000 level and I'd be curious to see which level some professional musicians are at.

There are just so many levels and facets to any art form that I don't think many people would consider themselves an expert at something. That's for others to decide, I suppose.

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.